Web marketing

Which colleges rank best on traffic to their admissions web pages? |

A new metric from the Similarweb platform shows how successful institutions are in bringing students closer to applying.

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Although college ranking systems continue to be criticized by higher education pundits, millions of readers still can’t turn away from them and take pride in bragging rights when their college breaks into the Top 20 or that their university catapults itself five places in an academic field.

The reference over the years – and most often criticized – is US News and World Report‘s best colleges. There are dozens more, like Niche, that go beyond the standard overall ranking (American News does too) and measure everything under the campus sun, from partying and athletics to dorm rooms and political leanings. Search long enough and your university might be #1 by some measure.

Recently, a new ranking metric was introduced to University Affairs of Similarweb, a platform that monitors web traffic, which is of great interest to college and university leaders. In particular, the researchers monitored traffic to the admissions page, not just traffic to an institution’s homepage or website.

“A lot of [rankings companies] look at academic performance, income, after-school earning potential – all good indicators,” says senior analyst Richard Krueger of these other rankings. “We decided to use our data to put together a list that would shine a light on which schools are somehow winning the online wars, bringing in the most traffic, as online marketing becomes increasingly crucial for universities to reach their students. We see schools becoming better digital marketers. And this list is a good indicator.

Similarweb’s Top 100 College Report 2022 is full of surprises, but in a good way for the institutions on the list because it really inspires users to take them where they want them to go: coveted admissions pages. , which in turn can lead to applications. No. 1 is Purdue University, an institution strong in student resources, marketing, and technology adoption. City University of New York’s Baruch College came in as a surprise No. 2 overall, but Krueger points out that the the wall street journal named it one of the best value schools in the country, and the college has done well to capitalize on this with strong public relations work. At No. 3 was Ohio State University, leading a group of seven audiences in the top 10 and including one of dozens in the Top 100 that are optional.


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The colleges that were able to drive more traffic to sites over the fall also did so through heady responses to the pandemic and campaigns around a return to face-to-face modalities. It hasn’t hurt that many of the major institutions have offered financial aid or tuition freezes — like Purdue — or the many activities that still take place on campuses. Purdue’s viewership in the 2021 admissions season was 19.8 million visitors, more than double that of Baruch and OSU.

The rest of the Top 10 all eclipsed 6.5 million visitors:

  • University of Pennsylvania (8.33 million)
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison (8.25 million)
  • University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (7.20 million)
  • New York University (6.86 million)
  • Boston University (6.76 million)
  • University of California, Davis (6.59 million)
  • Texas A&M University (6.58 million)

inside the numbers

Two things stand out about the Top 10: First, there is only one Ivy League school (and no Stanford, CalTech, or MIT) despite the large number of applications they all enjoy. Second, a school like NYU has received over 100,000 applications, which could mean it turns those visits into real interest. A notable blow to the Top 10 is that they all lost ground from a year earlier, led by a 16% drop from Illinois and even a 15% drop from Purdue.

The colleges accumulating the most year-over-year ground were The Cooper Union, a private New York City college known for architecture, art, and engineering (+29%), Hamilton College ( +20%), Syracuse University (+19%) and Notre Dame University (16%). Six other strong academic institutions ranked in the top 10, including Bentley University (15+), Washington University in St. Louis (15+), Georgia Tech (14%), Harvard (+13%) , Barnard College (+13%) and North West (+12%).

Despite its academic prowess, Harvey Mudd College (-34%) lost ground on admissions, according to Similarweb, followed by the University of Colorado-Boulder (29%) and the University of Pittsburgh (23%). Five of the six remaining universities were public universities in California, all of which saw admissions page visits drop by more than 20%: CSU Fullerton, San Francisco State, San Diego State, UC-Irvine, UC-Santa Barbara and CSU-Los Angeles.

The slight majority of visitors to all but one of the Top 10s, and 83% of admissions pages overall, were women. India led the share of traffic among international visitors at over 70%, with Canada and the Philippines each accounting for 7% of the share. On the radar for many of these students: Swarthmore College, MIT, Carleton College, Colby College and Colorado-Boulder. Arizona State, Harvard and Stanford were also in the Top 10. Only 16 of the top 50 in the rankings were private universities, indicating that cost was likely a deterrent for students to visit these admissions pages.

So how did Similarweb manage to get all these searches?

“We collect this data through a variety of methods,” says Krueger. “We combine it and use extrapolations from AI and machine. We look at other things like duration or time spent on site, number of pages on site, these are all metrics we are able to shed light on. And it’s quite deep, where we can compare males to females and geolocation. The developers are based in Israel. They are good at working with data and getting it from different places and making it useful. »

The company does research, digital marketing, and business intelligence for businesses around the world, but anyone can visit, type in the name of a business or college, and see its traffic results. In February, CNN had 699 million visitors worldwide. Fox News had 299 million. Google had 90.8 billion. YouTube had 35 billion. And if traffic drops like a rock, as Similarweb researchers witnessed in the months leading up to Peloton’s collapse, you might know that the business – or institution, in this case – is in trouble. .

When it comes to higher education, Krueger said he noticed before deciding on admissions that web traffic to homepages was particularly high at MIT (50 million in February), Harvard (49.8 million) and at Stanford (21.7 million), due to their popularity in areas such as health and technology which would attract other guests not necessarily interested in attending.

It will be interesting to see how the trends change on the pages over the next year as schools begin to open up even more. Krueger also mentioned a possibility to expand and add another report that might be interesting in the future:

“We could look at online universities, which are winning this game as it develops,” Krueger says.